In recent seasons, there have been numerous signings that just haven’t worked out. The ones that have, moved on as soon as they made an impact. There was a sense of ruthlessness in the manner in which underperforming players were moved on and many of us took that as a sign of things to come. Arshavin, Squillaci, Denilson, Chamakh, Andre Santos, Manone and Gervinho were packed off due to repeated failures. Djourou and Coquelin are on loans elsewhere with no hopes of making a comeback. Joel Campbell’s role also in question with the addition of 19 year old Yaya Sanogo from Auxerre. Upto 21 players were released from the reserve team as none of them were good enough. But no big name additions have been made in spite of links and the CEO, Ivan Gazidis’ firm words that there is enough money to bring in a few world class players. Now, before we accuse the club of not bringing in reinforcements, let’s take a look at the squad.
Poll position is between two Poles, Wojciech Szczesny and Lukasz Fabianski. Both of them highly inconsistent and error prone. It makes sense to hire the services of an experienced player to play first team while the others could learn from him. Especially when the services of Julio Cesar and Mark Schwarzer were available, it made sense to consider them, but nothing has happened and Schwarzer was snapped up by Chelsea. An experienced GK at the peak of his powers like Hugo Lloris was not considered in previous seasons as Wenger obviously sees Szcz in that position in the future. There have been no attempts to extend Fabianski’s contract which means Damien Martinez maybe the new No. 2 next season.
The full back positions are well stocked with youth, quality and experience. The only area where Wenger’s philosophy has been implemented to perfection. We have two experienced international full backs in Bacary Sagna and Nacho Monreal at right and left respectively with more than able English deputies in Kieran Gibbs and Carl Jenkinson. Sagna’s indifferent form and Gibbs’ recurring injury problems are worries, but progress has been made.
At central defence, we have the calmness and precise positioning of Mertesacker, the agility and acrobatics of Koscielny and a below-par Vermaelen. Ever since being made club captain, Vermaelen has gone woefully out of form and made some horrendous mistakes early last season which cost us a few matches. But football fans tend to forget easily. The very same fans who called him the Verminator. Form may be temporary, but class is permanent and the vice-captain of the Belgian national team has lots of it. I stand firmly behind him. He will miss 6 weeks of the new season with an injury. With Djourou and the young Miquel being moved on, there is a gap in the CB position that needs to be filled.
There were some vague links with Milan’s Phillipe Mexes, Valencia’s Adil Rami and Swansea’s Ashley Williams, which makes me think that Wenger has considered that we’re short at back. But Sagna playing at CB in pre-season means he thinks the Frenchman can fill in the spot until Vermaelen is fit again. One can see his logic as Djourou as a 4th choice CB barely got any playing time last season. A lot of unnecessary panic is perpetuated in this area as even Chelsea follows the same formula. They only have 3 CBs in Terry, Cahill and David Luiz while Ivanovic can play both RB and CB. Ashley Cole is at LB while Azpilicueta and Ryan Bertrand are the able deputies. However, David Luiz can also be employed at CDM which is the kind of versatile player that we lack. Arsene Wenger is a stickler for financial efficiency, which makes me think that a defensive midfielder who can also play at CB is more likely to come in. There won’t be any signings at CB.
We have plenty of mid-fielders on paper. Arteta, Ramsey, Diaby, Wilshere, Chamberlain, Rosicky and Cazorla. I doubt if Emmanuel Frimpong is part of Arsenal’s future. However, Arteta, the statistical phenom is out for the first six weeks, Diaby is permanently on the injury list and won’t be back until December, Wilshere has been iffy since his comeback, Chamberlain is an unfinished product and I can’t remember a time when Rosicky has played an entire season uninjured. No one can question the quality of these players, if they’re on the field, they are world class. But at any given point in time, at least two of them are injured. There have been several links since the departure of Alex Song to Barcelona, like Yann M’Villa, Ben Arfa, Luiz Gustavo, Matthias Ginter, many of them proven talents from champion teams who have shown interest in playing for Arsenal or promising youngsters, but none of the deals have come through. I suspect Wenger might not be looking for a signing here as he thinks we have enough in terms of numbers. I think we lack a versatile defensive mid fielder who can play CB. It is unfortunate that we did not look at Luiz Gustavo, a Brazillian International, Champions League winner at Bayern who can play both CB and CDM. He was also relatively cheap at 16 million pounds. The fact that a mid table Bundesliga team pipped us for Gustavo means we are not looking at anyone.
Experienced CFs are Lucas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. Walcott has contributed at CF, but it’s a laughable comparison to those in the same position in other teams. RVP? Rooney? Hernandez? Aguero? Dzeko? Luis Suarez?
The only experienced winger in the squad is Walcott with Arshavin and Gervinho being sold off. The promotion of the young German sensation, Serge Gnabry and the Japanese speedster, Ryo Miyaichi from the youth squad might prevent any new signings from being made here. There was a short link with the Brazillian international, Bernard, and Jesus Navas last season, but both of them didn’t happen. Wenger made the statement that there’s a lack of quality in the market while some players have inflated prices. It’s true to an extent, we cannot match the financial efficiency with which Man City brought in Navas, Jovetic, Negredo, Fernandinho while getting rid of Balotelli and Tevez. However, it is frustrating to watch the Italians Napoli do prudent business by moving want-away Edinson Cavani, and bringing in Higuain, Jose Callajon and Raul Albiol.
The inaction has cost us. We could have made a move for Dzeko last season when he was unhappy of not getting first team football and our scouts followed Jovetic for a long time. Forget Rooney and Suarez as their questionable attitudes and movement from direct rivals have many other consequences. Soldado or Negredo wouldn’t have offered us anything that Giroud or Podolski can’t offer. It’s beyond logic why Higuain didn’t happen. He’s just the kind of ruthless finisher that we have lacked since RVP left. Let’s say for argument’s sake that even a striker or winger is not required. The strategy followed last season was that of dividing goals between different players while strengthening the defence. It worked as we went back to the Geroge Graham days of grinding out results while playing unattractive football. Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud all contributed in their first seasons while Walcott evolved. One can only assume that these guys will improve with experience. Then there’s deadwood remaining in Bendtner and Park to confuse the opponents.
There were plenty of times last season when we missed a creative spark like the goalless draws against Sunderland, Stoke and Aston Villa, draws against Everton, Southampton, Fulham and Liverpool and then the colossal defensive errors that cost us matches against Chelsea, Manchester United, Norwich and Swansea. We were outplayed by midtable teams. The late surge saw us close the gap with Manchester City upto 5 points but we were far far behind Manchester United.
How is Arsenal a better team than what it was last year?
1) The current crop of players have played an entire season together and they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Mind you, this has not happened since the Invincibles season.
2) There is a good blend of experience and youth in every area of the pitch.
3) Cleared out all players who have no future with the club except for maybe two or three.
4) An injury-free Podolski, a more confident in front of goal Giroud and an improving Walcott will get us more goals.
5) This maybe the year of the Ram and the Ox.
1) Lack of depth. All title chasing teams need good depth as the season moves on. With only 18 players and 6 of them already injured, we’re in a precarious position.
2) Lack of a natural leader. All big teams have at least one player who have some magic in them. They are the ones that inspire. A Steven Gerrard or a Patrick Vieira or a Vincent Kompany.
3) Lack of a prolific goalscorer. Someone you can count on when there aren’t any goals. Someone whom the opposition fears.
It is noticeable that Wenger’s stubbornness to hone the skills of one or two players has put the quality of the entire team on hold. This approach has yielded both good and bad results. It failed with the likes of Gervinho, Santos and Denilson while Koscielny and Ramsey have developed nicely.
To say he doesn’t do value for money deals anymore is unfair. Look at those in the team. Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal and Cazorla are all ‘top top’ players who have come with undervalued price tags. This, during an era when the likes of Henderson, Carroll and Downing cost 75 million pounds!
Having said this, I would like to re-iterate that we’re not going to winning any titles this season, again. If Spurs hold on to Bale, we might not even qualify for the Champions League next season. All the build-up towards a good core of quality players will be for nothing. We will face the same difficulties of losing our best players if we don’t win anything. I doubt if Sagna or Koscielny will stay if better offers come from abroad. We have missed out on an amazing opportunity to take a leap this season which hasn’t happened in the transfer market so far. The bids for different players give me the impression that there are shortages in different areas of the field. If there are resources available, it makes sense to use them. Two weeks left in the window, with no more big names left in the market. Another long season awaits us.